In an effort to learn a little more about that 1963 team, we’ll look back at the team in the form of weekly reviews, re-living the season as it happened. We also did this ten years ago for the 1988 team, then again in 2020 for the 100th anniversary of the pennant winners from Brooklyn.
But first, before we tackle the 1963 Dodgers, let’s set the stage for the season.
This was the Dodgers’ sixth season in Los Angeles, and second at Dodger Stadium. The year before, Maury Wills won the National League MVP by stealing a record 104 bases, and Don Drysdale won the Cy Young Award after leading the majors with 25 wins, 232 strikeouts, and 314⅓ innings pitched. Tommy Davis led the majors with 230 hits and 153 RBI — the latter a franchise record — while hitting .346. Davis was the ninth Dodger to win a batting title, and the first since Carl Furillo in Brooklyn nine years earlier.
That was a recipe for 101 wins during the standard schedule, but that only earned them a tie atop the National League with the Giants. For the fourth time in National League history, a best-of-three playoff was required to decide the pennant. The Dodgers were involved in all of them, and just like in 1951 when the teams were in Brooklyn and New York, respectively, the Dodgers blew a late-season lead to open the door for the Giants.
Also like 1951, the Dodgers led the third game of the playoff in the ninth inning, and Los Angeles coughed up the lead just like their prior Brooklyn brethren. The Giants scored four in the ninth to win the pennant.
The Dodgers traded for veterans to restock heading into 1963. Infielder Don Zimmer found his way back to the Dodgers after two years with the Cubs, acquired for minor league pitcher Scott Breeden. They got longtime Yankees first baseman and five-time All-Star Moose Skowron in exchange for fireballing starting pitcher Stan Williams. Skowron was entering his age-32 season, coming off 77 home runs over his previous three seasons, and owned a .496 slugging percentage in his 11 major league seasons.
“Skowron has added the right-handed punch we so sorely missed last season,” manager Walt Alston told Bob Hunter in The Sporting News. “How we could have used him in September.”
Light-hitting infielders Larry Burright and Tim Harkness were sent to the expansion Mets for 24-year-old swingman Bob Miller to help stabilize the pitching staff.
But the biggest move came in the final week of spring training. On April 1, the Dodgers sold 36-year-old franchise icon Duke Snider to the Mets for $40,000, sending the future Hall-of-Famer back to New York, where he played his first eleven seasons.
Snider was a part-time player by then, averaging just 249 plate appearances over the previous three seasons. He was quite productive in 1962, hitting .278/.418/.481 with a 148 OPS+, but in only 196 plate appearances.
“I’ve gone back a little, but I think it’s because I haven’t been playing much. One time last year I went 11 weeks without playing an inning,” Snider told the Associated Press. “It was the best thing for me to get away.”
Snider did indeed go nearly eleven weeks in between starts in right field on June 3 and August 19. In between, he pinch hit 25 times, though he did also play the final four innings of an extra-inning win in left field on August 5.
Snider left the Dodgers with 1,995 hits and set franchise records with 389 home runs and 1,271 runs batted in, marks that still stand 60 years later. He played in six World Series with the Dodgers, his 11 home runs in the Fall Classic are the fourth-most of all-time.
The Dodgers outfield that remained was young and productive, with 24-year-old Tommy Davis, 23-year-old Willie Davis, and 26-year-old slugger Frank Howard. Ron Fairly, who played first base and outfield, was just 24. The pitching staff was led by 26-year-old Drysdale and 27-year-old Koufax, the latter coming off leading the NL in ERA. After missing two months with a circulatory condition in his finger, Koufax was fully healthy heading into 1963.
The roster was loaded, such that Dodgers were considered favorites to win the National League in 1963 in a Sporting News poll, edging out the Giants and Reds, who each won a pennant in the previous two years.
Starting next week, we’ll see how things got started for Los Angeles in 1963.